Examination of Witnesses (Questions 44
WEDNESDAY 9 JANUARY 2002
44. Can I welcome Jean Gemmell, the General
Secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, and Philip
Parkin who is a Council Member of the Professional Association
of Teachers. I apologise for the time over-run. We are always
far too optimistic and push too many sessions in. It is the Chairman's
fault because the flow of questions is difficult to stop. Jean,
can I welcome you to our deliberations. We are now going to try
to change all the questions.
(Ms Gemmell) We would certainly change some of the
45. Can I start, first of all, by welcoming
you and wishing you a happy New Year. You have been hearing the
deliberation this morning. What marks out your union's response
to the sort of drift of questions that have been asked and the
answers that came back? What is different about your organisation?
Are you not, anyway, very soon going to be swallowed up?
(Ms Gemmell) Absolutely not, is the answer to the
last part of your question. I wrote while one of my colleagues
was talking that the reports or our demise have been vastly exaggerated.
We often read in the TES that we are going to vanish soon. I do
not actually know that that is their perception, I think that
is the perception that is fed to them by optimistic colleagues
in other unions, because I suspect we are a thorn in their flesh,
and we would be a thorn in their flesh because we actually do
value teaching as a profession and continue to exhort young persons
to enter that profession. We do actually represent the different
attitude. You will know that it is our cardinal rule that industrial
action has no part in any consideration of anyone who belongs
to our association. We were established with that cardinal rule
as our prime function and it has not changed, but in recent years
we have extended our membership to include PANN, which is the
Professional Association of Nursery Nurses, which includes all
people in child care and early years provision, and more recently
still professionals allied to teaching because we have a perception
as a union that the "whole team" working within education
is the most important thing and that it is only by the whole team
working co-operatively that the pressures of accountability and
innovation that have rested upon us are able to be coped with.
The other thing I would point out is that I am only three years
out of being a head of a fairly large and, I am pleased to say,
successful comprehensive school; my colleague, Philip, is currently
the Deputy Head of a junior school and there are no professional
officers working in our headquarters in Derby who are longer out
of teaching than me. So we actually do represent the workforce
much nearer to the chalkface. The thing I would say that has encouraged
me most recently is that I was privileged to attend the New Head
teachers' Conference just before Christmas at which Michael Barber
spoke. If what he said in these four things is true then I think
we are in a more positive stance. He suggested that during the
1970s education could be described within schools and colleges
as "uninformed professional judgment". In other words,
those at the top more or less were doing their own thing; they
were exercising autonomy based on their own past practice or skill
or hunch. That was taken over in the 1980s by "uninformed
prescription." In other words, we were all told what to do
but we were told what to do by somebody else who was operating
on myth or hunch. The 1990s were "informed prescription".
There is the biggest database about what is going on in schools
and what teachers are doing and what children are doing now than
there has ever been, and the 1990s' constant innovations and constant
pressures were based on that. Hopefully, the 2000s will be based
on "informed professional judgment", ie, that database
is there, we are data-rich, we do have the information we need
to operate more effectively but that the sea-change is towards
allowing those of us that are in the profession more autonomy
in using that information that is available. If that is true,
that is where we come from as an association and what we would
urge our members to be supportive of. The whole debate about classroom
assistants is, of course, coloured by our perception that the
whole team is the only way it will work. I have to say a meeting
of minds occurred when I moved from being a head to being an officer
with the union because I had that conviction in the school which
I managed and spent many years trying to put that into practice,
and I moved into an association where that thinking was also permeating
through the association. I did not instill it, I arrived believing
it in an association that was also believing it.
Chairman: Excellent. I want to get as much as
we can out of this session. Can I ask colleagues for brief questions
and relatively concise answers.
46. You will have heard earlier in the discussion
the questions I was asking about dealing with problems of indiscipline.
What is your view about that?
(Ms Gemmell) In recent years there has been more money
in schools than there was when I was last there. It is the availability
of funds, I think, that opens some of the gates to the possibilities.
When you were talking about, for instance, exclusion earlier with
one of my union colleagues the suggestion appeared to be that
children who were permanently excluded were going to be permanently
excluded from the system, not from the school. It is true that
exclusion from one school and re-entry into another school, if
that re-entry is properly supported, properly phased-in and the
child is properly accepted, can actually offer a new start for
a child where they do not carry with them the baggage of behaviour
that they have created in one establishment. That possibility
was not mentioned earlier this morning and that does happen. There
is, of course, the possibility also for alternative provision
within the school but that can only exist if there is appropriate
funding and appropriate staffing levels and appropriate support.
One of the things that I think is very telling is that some children
do respond to one-to-one teaching and do respond to a flexibility
of timetable and curriculum that within the structure of the school
day and the school timetable one cannot cope with. If I can actually
quote a special needs teacher that I know dearly, I am married
to him, he came home one day from dealing with an individual child
and he said "the boy could not settle at all today because
of things going on his family so we dug a pond". I cannot,
no teacher can when they have got a class in front of them, decide
that one child cannot settle so we will dig a pond. It is that
sort of ability to deal with the child's needs at the time that
unless there is flexibility that only funding can generate we
cannot contend with. I have to say the issue over race and Afro-Caribbean
boys is one on which I was not happy with the answer that my previous
colleague gave because I do think there is a significant problem
and I do think it may very well be race related. I think it may
be to do with issues that we have not related to the statistics,
but are issues on which there may be statistics. For instance,
I do not know the figures but I think it is correct that the likelihood
of Afro-Caribbean boys coming from families where there is not
an adult male role model is vastly higher than other community
groups and I think those two things may be closely related.
47. I was not suggesting that children were
(Ms Gemmell) No, it was just in the conversation.
48. My concern was more about to get to the
point, even though it may be useful for a child to move on elsewhere
or whatever, to have "this child has been permanently excluded"
is a label that goes with a child and sometimes unfairly hampers
and labels that child. Is that you are suggesting, that there
is now the opportunity with the additional resources that are
coming in to do that more preventative and early intervention
work and to recognise that there should be other ways of dealing
with these situations?
(Ms Gemmell) I hope that would be the case but can
my colleague come in here.
(Mr Parkin) There are occasions when the relationship
between a pupil and the school breaks down to the point where
the child and the school both need a new beginning and reclaiming
that pupil within that school is not possible. Although permanent
exclusion sounds something dreadful we ought to view it as an
opportunity for a new beginning and a new situation.
49. My concern is that a child, and I have had
lots of experience of this, who has been permanently excluded
has that label, whereas if what we are talking about is finding
alternative provision, which is an agreement, there is no need
to go down the road of permanent exclusion and the child to get
(Ms Gemmell) One of the problems that has existed
for many years is that it has often been the case that the only
way alternative provision was available was by the edict of the
sort of working party group that is called when a child has reached
the point of permanent exclusion. Funding has not made it a possibility
before that as a preventative measure rather than a punitive measure.
I think there should be alternative systems available where moving
to that alternative system for that child is not deemed to be
pejorative. In terms of, for instance, vocational courses post-14,
the fact that there is more flexibility for those ought to help
50. You have partially answered the question
I wanted to ask. Are there any improvements to the existing structures
that are in place that you feel could be improved upon when, say,
a pupil is not permanently excluded? I suspect there are pupils
who currently do not benefit from a permanent exclusion and are
not picked up properly by the existing structures that are in
(Ms Gemmell) Yes, and sometimes schools are their
own worst enemies because they hold on to pupils, especially young
pupils, in the existing scheme of things when in fact they should
be looking at alternative provision or they should be looking
at behavioural management programmes for the children and they
should be spending the money on those children differently at
an early age in order that permanent exclusion does not become
the answer ultimately. We, as an Association, would have a policy
of inclusivity but not where that policy, as was in recent years,
was made that thou shalt not exclude more than so many pupils
a term which bears no relationship to whether or not you actually
have that many problems a term. As long as there is realism that
there are points at which there is change or points at which the
school cannot cope is accepted our general stance would be inclusivity
with appropriate procedures and funding to make that possible.
(Mr Parkin) The routes to early intervention through
other agencies, such as educational psychologists, who then give
access to pupil referral units and things like that, are very
difficult because of the shortage of those people, because there
are few educational psychologists around and they have got very
large caseloads. To get that early intervention at the moment
is very difficult.
51. Is that a function of funding, do you think,
or a function of something else?
(Mr Parkin) I could not speak on behalf of educational
psychologists but there do not seem to be many of them going into
training at the moment for whatever reason.
52. Your opinion.
(Ms Gemmell) It is not a function of funding within
the schools, it is a function of funding within local authorities
and where local authorities have put their money. As I said just
now, the opportunity to convene the right people to come up with
the right answer for a child who displays great difficulties has
only in the past been possible when permanent exclusion was on
the cards. To actually pull together that sort of body of expertise
in a therapeutic way was just, and I am only talking about up
to three years ago, a non-possibility.
53. Your inclusive policy in terms of the Association's
membership means that you have both the classroom assistants and
(Ms Gemmell) Yes.
54. As a result of that have you been able to
more clearly define the roles and nature of those professional
(Ms Gemmell) When you were asking earlier this morning
of someone whether or not there were specific tasks that only
teachers could do and classroom assistants could not, I think
with regard to a specific task the answer is no, there is no possibility
where you could say, like you might with a surgeon and a nurse,
a surgeon can do this and a nurse can do that. I think with regard
to the job description that does need to be clearly resolved at
the point of appointment. The job description will vary almost
as much as the number of assistants who come into the system.
When you were talking earlier about how could four support staff
significantly help a school, they might not significantly help
a school if you were thinking the only way in which they could
be used would be to appoint a classroom assistant to a teacher
for that class. That would not be a very good use. But, if you
tie that together with the fact that teachers do do a lot of fairly
banal administrative things, marking things, checking things,
looking at registers, sending letters home to parents, all of
that sort of thing does not have to be done by the teacher and
it can be done by support staff. If schools get four additional
support staff you do not have to define in advance what the nature
of that support staff will be. I think the schools ought to define
how that allocation of staffing can be best used within their
school. That also brings me on to the topic of ICT that you were
talking about. ICT in schools, at the moment, is not being used
creatively. It is being used within the classroom and the children
are being taught to use it as a communication tool and a retrieval
tool but it is not actually being used in a way which means that
teachers have immediate instant access to the sort of reports
that they might need to help them and the sort of data that they
might need to help them. They cannot simply go to their own computers
and dial up the statistics that they need on a child who they
are teaching this September who they were not teaching for the
last two years.
55. Coming back to your membership though, is
the advice to them to clarify their job description before they
(Ms Gemmell) Yes. At the moment, because there is
not such clarity, one of the things that we have done quite a
lot of with our members is they have sent us contracts for us
to look at and consider and give them advice upon and then we
have sent them back to them with the advice before they have actually
signed on the dotted line.
56. Following up my earlier discussion, has
the Association any evaluation of the contribution which assistants
are making to the actual rising of standards for those young people
in the classroom?
(Ms Gemmell) No, we have not. The only research that
I know has been done about that is only very small scale. You
know there were research bursaries offered by the Government and
last year I was one of the trained evaluators for that and there
were a couple of individual pieces of research being done about
whether or not classroom support in a school was actually providing
improvement on standards for the pupils. The way in which I would
see that it might very well be indirectly effective is when it
actually allows greater teacher access to the class and greater
continuity when children move from one year to the next and the
teacher changes in terms of the modus operandi.
57. Eventually, as an Association employing
both these members of staff you must have some intrinsic understanding
from an educational value of the merits of those employed?
(Ms Gemmell) The only piece of research we have done
so far, bearing in mind that this branch has only been in existence
for two years, is on the use of classroom assistants and the amount
of time that they provide in classes and the sort of tasks that
Valerie Davey: Thank you.
58. Do you agree that there should be the possibility
of potential progression? When we were doing our Early Years Inquiry
we found evidence of high quality people working as teaching assistants
who very early hit a ceiling of progression and of income and
one did think that without taking them out of the classroom altogether
there should be an avenue by which they could build on their qualifications
and perhaps get into the teaching profession because there were
obviously very gifted people working in those roles.
(Ms Gemmell) Two years ago we published a paper inhouse
which was the career ladder for classroom assistants as we saw
it. Can Philip come in here?
(Mr Parkin) In North East Lincolnshire as part of
our teacher recruitment strategy there is a tie-in with Bishop
Grosseteste College at Lincoln and a course has been started for
classroom assistants to train to become teachers. The first cohort
has just started and I believe there are 20 to 30 in that cohort
who are doing a pre-degree course and will then move on to a degree
course to train as teachers.
59. Changing the subject to an issue we have
not covered before, there is no doubt that over the last ten years
the role of LEAs has changed quite radically and some would say
diminished quite significantly. Do you see the current balance
between individual schools and LEAs as being about right now or
does it need to change further?
(Ms Gemmell) It is interesting that within the case
workload that we deal with that we do log the sort of issues that
arise and there is no evidence to suggest that schools or teachers
wish to dispense with LEAs. We have not picked that up at all.
Sometimes we get issues between schools, individual teachers and
their LEAs when they are in dispute about something, but we do
not have a perception coming from our membership that they wish
the demise of LEAs.
(Mr Parkin) I do have a concern, and I suppose it
is a personal concern in a sense, about the devolution of money
to schools and the increasing amount of devolution of money to
schoolsit is 85 per cent this year and it is going to be
90 per cent next yearso the LEAs are being left with less
and less money to perform the essential functions. There is a
lot of money that is moving out from LEAs and moving back into
them through SLAsService Level Agreementsso there
is a bureaucracy just to move money around between LEAs and schools.
As somebody who works for a small unitary authority, a very good
small unitary authority, I must say that unitary authority, which
is in an isolated part of the country, is not able to provide
all of the in-service training that is required, the specialism
in the advisers that it employs, because it is such a small authority.
Because we are so isolated we do not have easy access to other
providers of the training that we require. If our local education
authority perhaps was retaining a higher proportion of the funding
it might be able to provide those services that we need. I would
not like the Government to look at all LEAs en masse and think
they are all the same.